Toss it up to my geocentric upbringing, but I’d never heard of the Paddington children’s books until this movie came out. But the series is well known in Great Britain, where the original author is still living.
I gathered from my research that Paddington is as much an English Product as Harry Potter and Mr. Bean. But he has a much stronger pedigree: The first Paddington book was publish in 1958.
All of this to say that Paddington is a very simple movie, but a very sweet one. Here we have a small bear from darkest Peru who has made his way to London. All he wants is a home and family, but he’s left by himself alone at the train station until late evening. Then along comes a proper English family, the Browns: Father Henry, his wife Mary, and two tween children, Judy and Jonathan.
Seeing the bear alone, Grumpy Henry wants the family to move along and ignore him, but Mary goes up to the bear and finds a tag on him that reads “Please take Care of this Bear.” Her heart is warmed and she convinces her husband and children to take him home, just for the evening. Before leaving the station, they give him a name, Paddington (because they are at Paddington Station.)
Remember, this movie is based on a children’s book. Paddington talks, very well, and even has British manners and wears a wonderful red hat, under which he keeps a spare marmalade sandwich. The beauty of the story is that no one, including the Browns, expresses any surprise over Paddington’s remarkable qualities. Which, when you stop and think about it, is exactly the way a child would react to a cute talking bear.
If Paddington’s London is reminiscent of that in Mary Poppins, its plot reminds us of 101 Dalmatians. Here, the villain is an evil taxidermist (played by Nicole Kidman), who picks up on Paddington’s presence in London and plans on stuffing him for display in the Natural History Museum.
I’m not a fan of movies about anthropomorphic animals. Usually the special effects are clumsy and the story is weak, but Paddington transcends these qualities. First of all the acting is first rate, with Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) as Mr. Brown, Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) as Mary, and in a wonderful supporting role, Julie Walters (Harry Potter) as their relative, Mrs. Bird. Never will you find such a likeable and appealing family as they work through the problems of dealing with a wayfaring bear like Paddington.
And the storyline, though quite simple, brings to bear all the trappings you would expect in a movie based on those proud Britons. At one point Paddington encounters a guard from Buckingham Palace and receives hospitality British-style. Practically every side character is English Weird, straight out of a BBC network sitcom. There’s a character listening in on conversations with a glass pressed against a wall, a bit of Monty Pythonesque Drag, even a Calypso band (Tobago Crusoe) adding to the soundtrack at appropriate times as Paddington passes in front of them while walking down the street.
But above them all, there is Paddington himself, who will make you forget you’re watching a mix of special effects and real life actors as he pulls you into his heartwarming story of a bear who needs a home.
Children of all ages and adults will enjoy this movie. It goes a little slow at times, but then, I’m comparing it to Sponge Bob and other American Childhood icons. In summary, a splendid time is guaranteed for all. God Save the Queen. Paddington is rated PG because, Britain. Right!